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Energy riches fuel bitcoin craze for speculation-shy Iceland

Iceland is expected to use more energy ‘mining’ bitcoins and other virtual currencies this year than it uses to power its homes.

With massive amounts of electricity needed to run the computers that create bitcoins, large virtual currency companies have established a base in the North Atlantic island nation blessed with an abundance of ‘renewable energy.’

The energy demand has developed because of the soaring cost of producing and collecting virtual currencies. Computers are used to make the complex calculations that verify a running ledger of all the transactions in virtual currencies around the world.

Among the main attractions of setting up bitcoin mines at the edge of the Arctic Circle is the natural cooling for computer servers and the competitive prices for Iceland’s abundance of renewable energy from geothermal and hydroelectric power plants.

Johann Snorri Sigurbergsson, a business development manager at the energy company Hitaveita Sudurnesja, said he expected Iceland’s virtual currency mining to double its energy consumption to about 100 megawatts this year. That is more than households use on the island nation of 340,000, according to Iceland’s National Energy Authority.

Pirate Party legislator McCarthy has questioned the value of bitcoin mining for Icelandic society, saying residents should consider regulating and taxing the emerging industry.

“We are spending tens or maybe hundreds of megawatts on producing something that has no tangible existence and no real use for humans outside the realm of financial speculation,” he said. “That can’t be good.”